Budget talks drag on into another night | NevadaAppeal.com

Budget talks drag on into another night

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, talk on the Senate floor Monday, May 30, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. Lawmakers continue to work with the governor on the state budget, including talks to extend $679 million worth of taxes that were set to expire Jun 30. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)
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Gov. Brian Sandoval said Monday, negotiators are “getting there” but conceded there is still a gap.

In addition to differences in the dollar amounts being discussed between the two sides, Sandoval said negotiations continue on the reforms he wants in trade for concessions to legislative Democrats.

As for his priorities, he said they are “the same reforms I talked about in the state of the state,” most important, the K-12 education reforms.

He said those include LIFO (the rule that the last teacher in is the first out when cutting back), tenure and governance changes for school districts.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said over the weekend his list includes putting Democratic tax proposals on the ballot along with a constitutional amendment to remove tax protections currently protecting the mining industry.

During this session, Democrats added some $968 million to the governor’s recommended budget. Asked what level of spending he would support, Sandoval declined to be specific saying, “I don’t want to jeopardize the negotiations.”

He, like the members of legislative leadership, said the negotiations are productive.

“I appreciate the tone of the negotiations,” he said.

Sandoval said he doesn’t intend to extend the 120-day session beyond June 6.

“They need to finish,” he said.

When Sandoval entered his office about 8 p.m., Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, was already inside. Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, both D-Las Vegas, were expected shortly.

That was their second meeting of the day. The first began about 5 p.m. and ended an hour later with legislative leaders sneaking out the back door of the governor’s office to avoid the press.

There were no meetings with Sandoval during the day. Instead he went to Fernley in mid morning to attend Memorial Day ceremonies at the veteran’s cemetery.

Those close to the process said the gap was still $313 million between the General Fund budget proposed by the two sides. But they said progress was being made and a final deal was close.

Veterans of the process in the legislative building questioned how difficult it could be to finish the budget given the political cover the Supreme Court’s opinion gave them. As one put it, the Democrats point to the economy to blame the cuts they had to accept. Republican lawmakers and the governor point to the opinion stripping as much as $656.7 million from the already tight budget.

Shortly after lawmakers exited the Capitol, the governor’s SUV also left as legislators returned to the task of passing non-exempt legislation before the midnight deadline to clear the second house. Only budget bills and other legislation granted an exemption would remain in play if not passed by midnight.

The Supreme Court opinion issued Thursday barred the state from taking the Clean Water Coalition money in southern Nevada to help balance the budget. But the broadly written opinion is being interpreted as reaching far beyond that $62 million pot of money to most of the other funding sources grabbed by the state from local governments.

Altogether, fiscal experts say that puts a $656.7 million hole in the governor’s recommended budget.

The primary cure lawmakers and the governor’s office are looking at is lifting the sunsets of the tax increases approved by the 26th special legislative session a year ago. Lifting those sunsets would generate $679 million over the biennium.

Democrats, however, have added back about $968 million to the governor’s recommended budget, leaving them a hole of $313 million.

In return for compromises to cover that gap, Republicans and Sandoval are asking for Democrats to approve a series of reforms. K-12 education, construction defect laws, collective bargaining and state worker benefits are among the issues on that list.

Negotiations were to continue today.